By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 29, 2020
ATLANTA—Angeney Metelus reserves Sundays for church, but that does not mean she lingers in a pew, waiting for the opening hymn. There are waffles to cook for fellow students. Newcomers to greet. Proclaiming the Scripture once Mass begins.
My faith has “grown and been challenged because at the Lyke House they push us to be very active in the Mass, being a lector or being the main commentator, learning how to do the ministry, eucharistic ministry, or altar serving or hospitality ministry. They want us to be very well rounded,” said the 21-year-old who grew up at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna.
Her four years at the Lyke House “grew that fire” of faith, said Metelus, who plans to graduate from Georgia State University in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spotlighted the Lyke House, along with 14 other ministries, as a model among the 2,500 religious centers for college students.
The Campus Ministry Department of the bishops’ conference recently named it as one of “fifteen programs that produce missionary disciples—year after year.”
The ministry began nearly 30 years ago to serve the historically black colleges and universities in the heart of the Atlanta University Center. The center’s unique stone structure replicates one of the oldest Catholic churches in Africa, a chapel in Lalibela, Ethiopia.
In recent years, students at the fast-growing Georgia State University have come to the Lyke House for Sunday Mass and other events during the week. The GSU campus in downtown Atlanta also has a chapel and meeting space in the student union.
Every campus is unique and every ministry reflects its students. But an essential purpose is “transforming student ministry into missionary disciples,” said Father Urey Mark, the director.
The ministry and students were part of a two-year process of USCCB interviews and surveys about its service to college-age young adults.
Discovering the call to discipleship
The Lyke House shapes its ministry as a place where students grapple with life’s complexities and grow toward a purpose, into a faith that sustains them beyond college.
“It’s a place where they are able to discover who they are, whose they are, and in this process, to discover the joy of entering into the life of Christ, the life of the church, and their call to discipleship,” said the priest who has been with the young people for five years.
Some 300 to 500 students a year come through its doors to find fellow Catholics.
Since the spring, students at Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University have attended classes online. With members of the community dispersed during the pandemic, Father Mark has emphasized the spiritual links between students and recently unveiled a shrine in the sanctuary to St. Mary, under the name of Mary, Mother of Africa. Before the shrine, he and others pray for students who ask for special intentions.
At the Lyke House, the school year typically starts with workshops on liturgy. The training helps young people understand the spirituality and symbols of Mass with an introduction to ministries, serving the Lyke House community and beyond campus. Later in the year, students go deeper in exploring their faith during weekend retreats, community service at soup kitchens and small group faith formation conversations.
Douglas Geiger is earning his master’s degree in mathematics at Georgia State University. He recently was baptized, received first Communion and was confirmed in the faith by Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., at a special Mass on Oct. 18.
Geiger, 26, said he was “trying to make sure my heart and mind were ready” to join the faith after a two-year journey.
Geiger lives in Jonesboro. Conversations with a staff member at Jonesboro’s St. Philip Benizi Church led him to the Lyke House. He joined peers at Wednesday evening Masses at Georgia State University, followed by food and conversations.
“I got to see Catholicism in other people who are my peers,” he said.
Following Mass, the archbishop also presented an award to Rudy Schlosser for years of service in campus ministry. Schlosser is assistant campus minister for Lyke House and Georgia State University.
The Lyke House has committed to broadening students’ understanding of the church and its mission. Its members join hundreds of others at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C., focused on the church’s social justice work. Students also join the sea of people at the March for Life rally against abortion.
Ten students traveled on pilgrimages to Israel and Rome, studying where Jesus lived and died and then flew to the Vatican, to observe the historical roots of the church. The ministry picks up a portion of the trip’s cost, which has taken place twice in five years.
Students return from the trip “on fire,” said Father Mark. “Spring semester, they become missionary disciples because they are so captivated, in love with their faith, in love with the history; Christ did live, Christ did rise from the dead. I went to his tomb. I am a witness too, like Peter.”
The Lyke House also has two strong outreach programs in the Bowman Scholars—a program for musicians—and in the student ministry assistant program, where students serve and minister to others, Father Mark said.
Staying in the church
The choice by Metelus and Geiger to be faithful puts them in a small company of their peers. Some 16 percent of millennials identify as Catholics compared to the 34 percent with no religious affiliation, reported a 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center.
For his part, Geiger wavered between periods of atheism and agnosticism.
“I have found things that solve those problems,” he said.
Geiger, who also studied philosophy at college, said the unity of the church and the intellectual tradition of 2,000 years of teachings drew him. Logic and experience are the best way to grow toward faith, he said.
Metelus said she committed in high school to remain faithful through college and beyond. She received the annual Newman Scholar of the Year recognizing her for superior service for three years as a ministry assistant.
“Since then, I’ve seen different parts of the Catholic faith or different dimensions,” she said, from the pilgrimage to the Holy Land to lobbying federal lawmakers on Catholic priorities. “That just keeps me going because I’ve been able to build on top of that.”